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Porn performers on edge after new HIV case

October 15, 2010 |  7:52 am

In San Fernando Valley’s tight-knit adult film industry, news of a new HIV case in an active porn performer alarmed many, even as opinions differed on whether current practices were enough to protect porn workers.

“This has got everybody on edge,” porn actress Brooke Haven told The Times. “Everybody has freaked out.”

Haven said once the news about the positive HIV test broke Tuesday, she rushed to check her last test to make sure she had not misread the negative result.

Officials at the Sherman Oaks health clinic that performed the testing have declined to identify the performer, citing medical privacy laws, and that has kept anxiety high, Haven said. 

“I understand it to an extent, but I don’t know if I agree with it, really. Especially in our industry, I think we all have a right to know,” Haven said.

“It’s a little scary,” she said, “and all we can do is wait, and while we are waiting our minds are constantly running a million miles a minute.”

Officials at the Adult Industry Healthcare Medical Foundation, known as AIM, also have declined to make public a list performers of who are quarantined because of possible exposure, or even the number of performers who were contacted to undergo additional testing. In the void, porn industry workers say, rumors and anger have spread.

Porn actress Angela Aspen cited a report by AVN.com, a porn industry news website, that the HIV-infected performer is a man who appeared in gay and straight films. Clinic officials have not confirmed the report.

The possibility that a so-called crossover performer may be Patient Zero has upset some straight porn performers who question why the industry permits gay porn actors to work in straight porn when the two genres have different standards for HIV testing. Gay performers, who typically wear condoms while performing, are not required to test regularly. Straight performers, in contrast, must undergo regular testing to work but are far less likely to use condoms, which straight porn producers say reduce sales.

“We’re not mad at the dudes. We’re mad at their industry not requiring testing,” Aspen said. “We have to get tested every 28 days. There’s no ifs, ands or buts about it.…We want accountability for the other side.”

Aspen said she believed film companies should be able to offer workers’ compensation to protect workers.

“I think the people who can afford to pay the big bills -- if they want to play in the big leagues and hire the big names, they need to have some kind of workers’ compensation to handle what we’ve been seeing in the last week,” Aspen said.

She also suggested rapid HIV tests to be performed just before filming shoots.

“Gonorrhea and chlamydia, that stuff can clear up. But with HIV, there is no clear up,” Aspen said.

Still, porn performers interviewed by The Times said they oppose mandating condoms on set.

“Consumers generally don’t want to see condoms. That puts them one notch removed from the moment,” said porn star Jeremy Steele. “That’s part of the fantasy. That’s part of the allure of porn and we should have the right to choose. I compare it to stunt work. You choose to take that risk.”

Haven said she believes the current system of regular testing among her fellow straight porn performers has kept her healthier in the six years she has been in the industry than she was before.

“There is a risk of getting HIV or AIDS whether you’re in the industry or not,” she said. “I never had a test before I was in the industry. I feel safer now.”

“Our AIM system is working just as it should,” Haven said. “They catch it right when it happens.”

The HIV infection report has caused some major porn producers to suspend production, a development that could not come at a worse time for performers, who have been hurt by the recession and fewer shooting options, insiders said.

“Over the last few years, it’s extremely slowed down. Why? Because of the economy, in conjunction with all the pirated and free porn … and how mainstream it has become,” Steele said. “There’s countless young girls and guys trying to come into the business. It’s now considered mainstreamish. It’s now a way to get attention, fun and money. It’s been over-saturated.”

In fact, in recent years, Steele said, many porn performers can’t make a full-time job out of just doing porn and have to take side jobs.

“A lot of porn stars are doing movie extra work or doing whatever they have to do. A lot of females have been doing escorting to survive,” Steele said.

Haven said the industry has done the right thing by suspending production “until everybody finds out if everybody is OK.” But at the same time, the work stoppage “means everyone can’t pay their bills.”

“Of course, everybody’s health is a priority.… Everybody should retest this week,” Haven said. “The best we can do is all support each other as best we can, and pause production for now, and hope that it’s only one outbreak.”

“And of course we get cast in a bad light. We’re already looked at as … dirty performers, and then an HIV case happens and they’re like, ‘Oh, I knew they were dirty.’ It’s not like that at all. It can happen if you work at McDonald’s. It just happens,” Haven said.

Meanwhile, activists at the AIDS Healthcare Foundation Thursday called on FilmL.A., a nonprofit agency contracted by the city of Los Angeles to handle film permits, to suspend adult filming in light of the crisis.

“While a number of companies have said they are going to shut down production, a number have not. The people who are filming today are still at great deal of risk,” Michael Weinstein, the AIDS foundation’s president, said Thursday.

Paul Audley, president of FilmL.A., said it had not been contacted by Weinstein’s group by late Thursday and that it did not have the power to pull adult film producers’ permits.

Audley said the pulling permits would need to be ordered by city officials.

AIDS Healthcare Foundation officials plan to appear at Friday’s Los Angeles City Council meeting to urge the city to suspend the permits.

Nina Hartley, who has worked in the porn industry for 26 years, said she resents criticism of the AIM clinic, which she credits with establishing a testing regimen that she said has been effective in preventing the spread of HIV. Hartley said she believes some critics are trying to exploit the situation for political gain.

“This is endangering a system that works,” she said. “If people really care about our health they should work with us.”

-- Rong-Gong Lin II and Molly Hennessy-Fiske

Darrenjames Read more: Porn industry clinic comes under fire for its handling of HIV case

Former porn star Darren James speaks out about latest HIV case

Wicked Pictures and Vivid Entertainment suspend production as a precaution amid new HIV case in porn performer

 

 

 

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